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The Laws of Love

Jason Carroll
February 13, 2024 11:15 AM

"The first question is, How important is love? And, in particular to our emphasis today, How important is love in dating and marriage? On the surface, this question sounds like one of those questions in a Sunday School class that is so obvious no one wants to answer it. Almost everyone will instinctively tell you that of course love is very important to successful marriage relationships. In fact, in our culture today many would say that love is the only true reason for a couple to come together and stay together in marriage."
Thank you Gessica and Patricia. That was beautiful and deeply touching. And thank you Coby for your testimony remarks. This is sacred special space and I am grateful to share it with you and be with you today.

As I begin, I want to pause to let each of you know that the Lord deeply loves you – and I love you too. Now, that may seem like a bit of an odd statement, seeing as how this is the first time we have met. How can I already feel love towards you? I feel this way because ever since I received the invitation to speak with you, I have prayed for you often. And in answer to those prayers, the Lord has touched my heart with a small glimpse of the measure of love He has for you. Oh my dear young friends, how your Father in Heaven loves you, and is so deeply aware of you.

Today, I’d like to talk to you about this process of how the Lord can endow each of us with increased love for others. Specifically, I want to talk about how you and I can experience the love of Jesus Christ more abundantly in our lives – particularly in close relationships, like dating, marriage, and family relationships.

As I get started, I should tell you that I am particularly pleased to be with you on the day before Valentine’s Day. I even wore my yellow tie for the occasion. I am grateful that my wife Stephanie could be with me as well but no, I won’t count this as our Valentine’s day date. The reason why I am excited to speak with you today is that today is a bit of a make-up chance for me. A second chance. I had the opportunity a few years ago to share a devotional address at BYU and I was originally assigned to speak during the week of Valentine’s Day. I have been teaching the Marriage Prep classes at BYU for many years, so I planned my remarks around a Valentine’s Day theme. However, as final scheduling was put into place, I was asked to move to the devotional slot during the first week of April. I wondered if I should perhaps change the focus of my remarks – but I stuck to my plans figuring, as I am sure some of you will agree, that some dating experiences seem to fit quite well with an April Fools’ Day theme quite well!

On a more serious note, the true reason I am delighted to be with you this week is that one of my most memorable experiences with a college devotional happened many years ago when Elder Jeffrey R. Holland spoke during the week of Valentine’s Day about understanding the true nature of love in dating and marriage relationships.1 That devotional address has greatly blessed my life, and I can think of no better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to share some of those truths with you.

For my remarks, I would like to address three questions about love.

1. How Important Is Love? 

The first question is, “How important is love?” And, in particular to our emphasis today, “How important is love in dating and marriage?” On the surface, this question sounds like one of those questions in a Sunday School class that is so obvious no one wants to answer it. Almost everyone will instinctively tell you that of course love is very important to successful marriage relationships. In fact, in our culture today many would say that love is the only true reason for a couple to come together and stay together in marriage.

However, while affirming the importance of love in dating and marriage relationships appears obvious and self-evident, such an answer assumes that we have a consensus about what the word love means. In romantic relationships we often say that someone is in love—but again, what exactly does that mean?

Part of the complexity of understanding love comes from the fact that we use the term in very diverse and inconsistent ways. People use the term love to describe their relationship with their fiancé or spouse, but they also say that they love double-fudge ice cream. Clearly, they don’t mean the same thing—or at least I really hope they don’t mean the same thing! But being clear about our definitions of love is much more than a semantic exercise.

As we ponder on the importance of love, it is instructive to consider the following excerpt from C. S. Lewis’s book The Screwtape Letters. In this classic Christian novel, we follow the correspondence between two devils. The first, Uncle Screwtape, is a master devil, and the second, Wormwood, is his nephew who is an apprentice devil still learning the trade. One area of training discussed involves how to ruin marriages.

Uncle Screwtape admonished his young nephew Wormwood that “humans can be made to infer the false belief that the blend of affection, fear, and desire which they call ‘being in love’ is the only thing that makes marriage either happy or holy.”2

Uncle Screwtape explained that this form of deception keeps men and women from recognizing the deeper nature and purposes of their current or future marriages. Which he describes as “the intention of loyalty to a partnership for mutual help, for the preservation of chastity, and for the transmission of life.3

Uncle Screwtape’s tactic of leading people to believe that marriage should be based only on the emotional state of “being in love” and primarily aimed at creating personal happiness seems to be particularly effective in our culture today. Reflecting the individualistic, consumer-driven, and soulmate-searching trends of our day, the dominant story of marriage in our wider culture is the story of falling in love and finding personal fulfillment in a love relationship.

As a result, many young adults—and some not-so-young adults—struggle in their relationships because they primarily think of love as an intense feeling that they cannot quite explain. But they are sure they will know it when they see it—and they often struggle to know if their current relationship has enough of it. In some cases, individuals fear committing to what appear to be very promising relationships out of concern that they are not in love enough.

Now let me pause for a moment here. My experience tells me that this is where I may be starting to lose some of you. We seldom question this culturally dictated story of marriage or the idea that the feeling of love is the primary factor that makes marriage work. So, some of you are probably thinking, “But isn’t being in love an important part of a successful marriage?” Others of you may even be wondering, “Is he suggesting we shouldn’t want to be happy in our marriages?” My response is that of course feelings of love and happiness matter, but while such feelings are indeed present in good marriages, they are best understood as the fruits of those relationships, not necessarily the roots.

Properly understood, love is indeed a key part of a lasting marriage. But improper understandings of love—which unfortunately are common in our culture today—are responsible for many of the struggles some individuals and couples have in dating, courtship, and marriage.

In short, what I am suggesting is that loving and lasting marriages are true partnerships in which spouses are devoted to creating a shared life together that is deeper than the emotional payoff of the marriage. And this truth deepens even further when spouses form a covenant bond dedicated to shared discipleship of Christ and the formation of an eternal family. This view of marriage gives us more than feelings of happiness; it helps make our lives rich, meaningful, and sacred.

2. What Is the True Nature of Love? 

That brings us to our next question: What, then, is the proper view of love? And how do we avoid falling into Screwtape’s trap in our own current or future dating and marriage relationships? How can we assure ourselves of having the deeper, fuller foundations of love in our relationships?

As with all meaningful questions in life, the answer is found in emulating the example of our Savior Jesus Christ. In fact, emulating Him in how we love was one of the Savior’s final instructions to His disciples when He said, “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you” ( John 13:34 ).

“As I have loved you”—that is how Christ asks us to love. How can we come to love as the Savior loves? That, my dear friends, is one of the very few questions in life we truly need to answer.

Nearly twenty-five years ago, during his Valentine’s week devotional, Elder Holland discussed this invitation to emulate the Savior’s pattern of love in dating and marriage. And his insights are even more needed in relationships today.

He said, “Christlike staying power in romance and marriage requires more than any of us really have. It requires something more, an endowment from heaven.”4

What does it mean when Elder Holland said that “staying power” in marriage will require “more than any of us really have”? Quite simply, it means that on our own, none of us will individually have enough feelings of love to keep our marriage and family relationships going strong through the natural ups and downs of life. We will need to become more than we naturally are.

Elder Holland then pointed out a crucial and comforting truth—that each of us can be endowed with the love we will need. He then referenced the prophet Mormon’s teachings on charity,5 in which he taught: 

Charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever…Pray unto the Father with

all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed

upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ. [Moroni 7:47–48]

Please note that, according to Mormon, charity is not simply a different amount of love; it is a different type of love. It is not just different in degree; it is different in kind.

We also see that Christ is the only true source of enduring love. He is this in two ways. First, Christ is our one complete example of how to love. Second, He is the only true source from which we can receive this love. Thus, as in all things, Christ shows us what we are to become and then empowers us to follow His example.

Elder Holland explained: 

True charity, the absolutely pure, perfect love of Christ, has really been known only once in this world—in the form of Christ Himself, the living Son of the living God… As in everything, Christ is the only one who got it all right, did it all perfectly, loved the way we are all to try to love. But even though we fall short, that divine standard is there for us. It is a goal toward which we are to keep reaching, keep striving—and, certainly, a goal to keep appreciating.6

Thus, we see that, in the light of the restored gospel, love is so much more than an emotion or feeling. Indeed, properly understood love is not a state of being, it is an actual Being. And that Being is Christ Himself. We, in fact, worship the living, breathing embodiment of love. Charity is the pure love of Christ because it is His love, and, because He is indeed the promised Messiah, through His infinite Atonement we can each be endowed with this love.

This endowment involves coming to see as He sees, understanding as He understands, prioritizing what He prioritizes, choosing what He chooses, and, ultimately, doing what He does. As we strive to be true followers of Christ, He can shape our hearts, elevate our desires, purify our motivations, and magnify our actions so that we, in time, can come to love as He loves and ultimately live as He lives. 

3. How Can We Receive a Fuller Endowment of Charity? 

When we come to understand that charity is an endowed gift from God, this brings us to our final question about love. How can we more fully receive an endowment of charity in our relationships?

The prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation from the Lord on how each of us can seek and receive such a blessing. As recorded in Doctrine and Covenants, we read, 

“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated - and when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (D&C 130:20-21). 

Therefore, the question becomes, what then are the laws upon which the blessing of charity is predicated? Put another way, what are the Lord’s laws for love? Charity is bestowed upon all true followers of Jesus Christ, so each law of love involves a specific way that we can more fully follow the example and doctrines of Jesus Christ. So, what are these laws of love? Our time today does not permit a comprehensive discussion of this question but let me illustrate three examples.

Love Law #1: Charity is Bestowed When We Righteously Exercise Our Moral Agency 

One of the Lord’s laws of love is that the pure love of Christ is bestowed upon us and our relationships when we righteously exercise our moral agency. A defining feature of charity is that it “endureth forever” (Moro 4:46-47). However, a common fear that many people have in dating and marriage is that their love won’t last. How can we have this type of enduring love in our relationships?

Perhaps the central message I wish to convey in my remarks today, particularly to my young friends here, is that emulating the Savior and following His injunction to love as He loves involves embracing an agency-based view of love.

In both His example and teachings, the Savior conveyed that true love is much more than just a feeling or emotion. Enduring love is expressed in multiple ways within relationships – in ways that you and I can control. When pronouncing the first of all commandments, Jesus said, “And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment” ( Mark 12:30 ).

A few years ago, Elder David A. Bednar and Sister Susan K. Bednar taught about the strong ties between moral agency and lasting love in their remarks in a Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults entitled “A Welding Link.”9 This title references the chain of generations linked together by marriage and family covenants. Now, I know that no one comes to a devotional talk expecting to get a homework assignment. But, if I could give you one today, I would deeply encourage you to watch Elder and Sister Bednar’s devotional later today or this week. I promise you it will deeply impact your life.

In this devotional, Elder Bednar taught,

“We are sons and daughters of God. According to the Father’s eternal plan of happiness, we are endowed with the gift of moral agency and are agents with the capacity to act. We are not merely objects to be acted upon. We are agents unto ourselves and should be anxiously engaged in bringing to pass much righteousness. A fulfilling and happy marriage is not found; rather, it is created by a covenant-keeping man and woman... it begins with you as you act and press forward with faith in the Savior, continually seek for heavenly help, and righteously exercise your moral agency. You can do it with the Lord’s help.”

In remarkable similarity, we also find a second witness for the value of embracing an agency-based approach to love in the relationship sciences. Dozens of studies show that strong and healthy family relationships are based on what experts call mature love. Mature love consists of emotions, but primarily emphasizes our priorities, choices, and behaviors. Immature love, on the other hand, only emphasizes emotions and makes loving choices and behaviors conditional upon the current mood of the relationship.10

These distinctions are important because the emotions of love, though needed and important, are often the most unstable part of relationships. Emotions by their nature can ebb and flow. However, our priorities, choices, and behaviors – which are all a part of our moral agency - can be intentional and consistent. Also, when there is a decrease of loving emotions, a mature view of love recognizes that we can continue to choose to love others and to act in loving ways that will heal and restore our feelings of love.

Just this week, we published a new study on flourishing marriages from the Wheatley Institute at BYU.11 In this study we found that couples who are flourishing in their marriages are significantly more likely than other couples to engage in proactive behaviors such as showing compassion to each other, spending meaningful time together, regularly engaging in acts of kindness, and participating in regular maintenance behaviors to improve their relationship. In fact, flourishing couples report scores that are typically three-times higher than other couples on these intentional aspects of relationships.

Thus, the teachings of scripture and the findings from relationship research teach us that loving and lasting marriages are not as much a matter of couples falling in love as they are an agency-based pattern of couples choosing in love, doing in love, and growing in love in their relationships.

Love Law #2: Charity is Bestowed When We are Obedient 

Another law of love is that charity is bestowed upon us and our relationships when we are obedient. Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf taught, “If ye love me, keep my commandments. This is the essence of what it means to be a true disciple: those who receive Christ Jesus walk with him.”12 

Elder Jeffry R. Holland has also taught, “Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it. So, if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others.”13

One of the great deceptions of the Adversary in our time is to attempt to cast obedience to divine laws as unloving. In the world today, acceptance of sin is often labeled as the way to be loving, kind, or tolerant, while loyalty to commandments is seen as being judgmental and lacking love. When we are sincerely following the example of our Savior, nothing could be further from the truth. Clearly, we should show love, respect, and compassion to all of God’s children whether they follow divine commandments or not. But we should always remember that God shows His love for us through His laws. 

Elder D. Todd Christofferson taught, “[God’s] commandments are not grievous—just the opposite. They mark the path of healing, happiness, peace, and joy. Our Father and our Redeemer have blessed us with commandments, and in obeying Their commandments, we feel Their perfect love more fully and more profoundly.”14 

Again, we also find a second witness for the law of obedience in the relationship sciences. Recently, scholars at the Wheatley Institute at BYU conducted a study involving more than 16,000 people living in 11 different countries to examine how different levels of religious participation influenced their lives and family relationships.15 We found that religious participation has profound benefits in people’s marriages and family relationships – and the greatest benefits are experienced by those who actively engage in home-centered religious practices, such as family prayer and reading scriptures, in addition to regularly attending religious services. And yes – behind the scenes we referred to this as the “Come Follow Me” study!

We found that highly religious people are much more likely to feel God’s love and to report high levels of happiness and meaning in their lives. Married couples who regularly engage in home religious practices share more emotional closeness, are more likely to make decisions together as a couple, and have fewer money problems than their less religious or non-religious peers. 

In sum, living our faith in deep and daily ways really matters - and it strengthens the love that can be in our lives.

Love Law #3: Charity is Bestowed When We Embrace Truth  

Another law of love is that truth is a foundation of charity. While there are many ways that this law of love can be applied, one of the most important is for each of us to come to see ourselves and others as we really are – the way that Christ sees us. This involves seeing the true worth of each and every soul.

One analogy I have found helpful in understanding the true worth of each of us comes from the television show The Antiques Roadshow on PBS. Are you familiar with this show? I didn’t put a whole of hope that you would be so I will describe it for you. On this program, a crew goes out to convention centers in cities all around the country and put out a call for people to bring in all of their antique furniture, paintings, and other heirlooms to be examined by expert appraisers.

People stand in lines waiting for their turn to have their items appraised. Camera crews circle through the crowd and show us certain items as they are discussed. After a detailed description of the items by the expert appraisers they tell the person how much the item is worth – often for much more than is expected. And then the person often responds - “I had no idea!”

Now, how can this show help us understand our personal worth? The key is in recognizing how the appraisers ultimately settle on the value of the item. In the final analysis the value of the item is not determined by its condition or maintenance. Regardless of the condition of the item, the value is determined by the price someone would pay for that item at auction.

Do you see the insight? You and I already know what price someone would pay for us —that price has already been paid.

“Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God. For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pains of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him” ( D&C 18:10–11 ). The worth of your soul is great in the sight of God. The Savior, through His infinite sacrifice, has declared your worth to be priceless—as He withheld nothing to pay the price to bring you home. He knows the truth - He understands who you are, who you can be, and with whom you belong.

The profound implication of this law of love is that as you come to see the truth about yourself, then you will begin to see others this way as well. Everything that makes you valuable to God is shared by others. You have a divine heritage, a divine nature, and a divine destiny – and so does everyone you know. This truth is a foundation of charity because it discourages comparisons and competition. President Russell M. Nelson taught us recently that, “one of the easiest ways to identify a true follower of Jesus Christ is how compassionately that person treats other people.”16


In closing, permit me to return to Elder Holland’s devotional remarks one last time. Elder Holland commended to each of us the only true pattern for securing enduring love in our dating and marriage relationships – which involves embracing these three laws of love – agency, obedience, and truth. He said:

You want capability, safety, and security in dating and romance, in married life and eternity? Be a true disciple of Jesus. Be a genuine, committed, word-and-deed Latter-day Saint. Believe that your faith has everything to do with your romance, because it does. You separate dating from discipleship at your peril. Or, to phrase that more positively, Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, is the only lamp by which you can successfully see the path of love and happiness for you and for your sweetheart.17

I add my simple testimony to the truthfulness of this divine pattern as well, and I do so in the sacred name of the One who can endow each of us with the fulness of love we desire in our marriage and family relationships, even Jesus Christ, amen.


1. See Jeffrey R. Holland, “ How Do I Love Thee? ” BYU devotional address, 15 February 2000.
2. C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942), letter 18.
3. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, letter 18.
4. Holland, “How Do I Love Thee?”
5. See Holland, “How Do I Love Thee?”
6. Holland, “How Do I Love Thee?”
7. Holland, “How Do I Love Thee?”; emphasis in original.
8. “ The Family: A Proclamation to the World ” (1995).
9. David A. Bednar, “ A Welding Link ” September 2017.
10. See Patricia Noller, “What Is This Thing Called Love? Defining the Love That Supports Marriage and Family,” Personal Relationships 3, no. 1 (March 1996): 97–115.
11. Jason S. Carroll, Adam M. Galovan, & David G. Schramm, “ The Soulmate Trap ” The Wheatley Institute, Brigham Young University, February 2024.
12. Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “ Love of God ” October 2009.
13. Jeffery R. Holland, “ The Cost – and Blessings – of Discipleship ” April 2014.
14. D. Todd Christofferson, “ The Love of God ” October 2021.
15. Jason S. Carroll, Spencer L. James, & Hal Boyd “ Religion in the Home ” A research report from the Wheatley Institute, Brigham Young University, November 2020.
16. Russell M. Nelson, “ Peacemakers Needed ” April 2023.
17. Holland, “How Do I Love Thee?”; emphasis in original.

About the Speaker

Jason Carroll

Jason S. Carroll is an internationally recognized expert on flourishing marriages and readiness for marriage among young adults. In 2014, Dr. Carroll received the Distinguished Mid-Career Achievement Award for distinguished scientific achievement by the International Association for Relationship Research (IARR). He currently serves as the Director of the Family Initiative at the Wheatley Institute at Brigham Young University, where he is responsible for engaging students, scholars, thought leaders, and the public in research-supported work that fortifies the core institution of the family in society. He has also been a faculty member in BYU’s School of Family for the last 22 years. 

Brother Carroll grew up at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon in Salt Lake City, Utah, before attending Brigham Young University for his undergraduate education. After also completing a masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at BYU he later earned his doctorate degree in Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota.

Brother Carroll served a mission in the Chile, Viña del Mar mission and has since served in many capacities in the Church, including ward mission leader, bishopric counselor, stake high counselor, stake Sunday school president, and bishop. He is currently a youth Sunday School teacher his ward.

He and his wife Stefani live in Draper Utah and are the blessed parents of five children and two grandchildren.
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